By Thilo Graf
The second expansion-supplement for Alluria Publishing‘s critically acclaimed, stellar underseas-campaign-setting Cerulean Seas is 114 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/Kickstarter-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page list of KS-contributors, 1 page back cover, leaving us with107 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
The introduction makes one thing clear: You have not read a book like this before. Ever. This sourcebook is about the arctic clime, yes, but not on humano-centric cultures, though it lends somewhat from Icelandic, Norse, Inuit etc. traditions), but on recent realizations of how much the world beneath the waves shapes the polar regions. Combine that with the fact that in Cerulean Seas, there is not much dry land and we have an interesting base assumption. More interesting yet, at least imho, would be the fact that logical assumptions have been taken: In order for any culture to thrive in a land of few resources and extremes, the resulting culture developing from it would require a sense of progressive-mindedness and war-like aspirations. Against this backdrop merging progress and tradition, arcane and technological and the struggle for survival, we are introduced to this book’s core concepts.
A special mention deserve here the artworks – the “City that never thaws” and most of the other artworks herein follow a cohesive, extremely high quality style that is not only consistent in itself, but also with the high quality artworks Alluria Publishing has featured in their other Cerulean Seas-products. In fact, some of them may even surpass them due to feeling more iconic, but more on that later in the conclusion. The pdfs begins with environmental undersea environments, glaciers and slush swamps as well as hazards for the respective areas, which include e.g. acidic slushes, catabatic winds, wind chills and cohesive rules for breaking through ice. All in all, a cool chapter that is useful for any cold climate, not just those in the Cerulean Seas-setting.
The second chapter is all about races and kicks off with a revisit to the classic races of the Cerulean Seas setting as well as Waves of Thought before including new races – which, of course, all come with the trademark pieces of information on buoyancy, types etc. The first new race would be the Aglooik, small feykith (only two and a half page) and they get +2 to Dex, Int, -2 to Con, 30 ft. speed, get +1 to ref saves versus electricity, steam and acid, +2 to Knowledge (engineering), Profession (engineering), Craft or disable device as well as proficiency with any aglootech-weapon, but more on that later. The second new race would be the arctic, cold, charming and professional Crystolix, who get +2 Int and Cha, -2 Str, must take skill focus (diplomacy), +2 to appraisal, cold resistance 10 as well as +2 to saves against spells and effects that would result in negative conditions. Interesting race that can be played as creepily friendly. The transparent Ice Elves get +2 to Dex and Wis, immunity to cold and fire vulnerability, +1 to AC when touching water and at a depth of 300 ft. or less as well as a spell-like ability to use ice water-jet and +1 DC to saving throws against cold spells they can cast.
The Talilajuk Ningen are special fishfolk: Based on Belugawhales, they can breathe air and get +4 Str, -2 Str, are fast, must take Skill Focus (Stealth) as their merfolk-bonus-feat and gain blindsense while in water. The coolest new race, perhaps would be the Squawk – mechanically, these beings get +2 to Str and Con, -2 to Int, are small at a fast movement rate of 30 ft., get +1 dodge bonus to AC and CMD, +2 to saves versus poisons, spells and spell-like abilities and always count as wearing cold weather outfits and proficiency with skiths. What are they? They are a race of deadly warriors living in a martial society of penguin-like humanoids. And yes, the artworks actually manage to make that work – squawks are bad@ss! The Thanor are a race of walrus-like humanoids who get +4 to Con + 2 to Str, -2 to Dex, -2 to Wis, are large and have lungs, +1 natural AC, only a speed of 30 ft., always count as wearing cold weather outfits and natural attacks with their tusks.
Pinniparian and Seafolk-crossbreeds are also covered and the vital statistics like age, height and weight tables are part of the deal as well. In chapter 3, the roles of the different classes (including psionic ones) in the cold waters of Isinblare are covered. The chapter also features new classes, the first one being the Angakkuq base-class, who get 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with light and medium armor, prepared divine spellcasting of up to 6th level via Cha as key attribute and get the option to create a Tupilaq: Somewhat similar to eidolons, these creatures are created from either flora, fauna or frost and can share spells with their masters and be enhanced etc, learn tricks à la animal companions etc. – a great alternative to the druid base-class with its fetishistic creature.
The chapter also includes new PrCs: The Conulair is singular mong PrCs in that is requires a cool oath as well as is based on an interesting concept – mechanically, the class gets d10, 2+Int skills, full BAB, medium fort-saves and several cold-adaption powers. The cool thing about the PRC, though, is that entry actually bonds the applicant with a semi-conscious symbiote that grants the creature the respective powers and allows them not only to create deadly rimefire powers and may also choose frostboons. An excellent, iconic PrC! The second class is just as awesome and is imho the best rules-take I’ve seen on the concept: The Cyrokineticist, a psionic class who gets d8, 2+Int skills, 3/4 BAB-progression, medium fort-and ref-saves as well as a variety of abilities that include rimefire weaponry, flash-freezing etc. – analogue to the pyrokinetist a warrior-style class. Nice to see some psionic support beyond the Waves of Thought supplement. There is also the Cryomancer-PrC (d6, 2+Int skills, 9/10th spell-casting progression, 1/2 BAB-progression, medium will-saves),a nm arcane specialist of cold-based magic.
In chapter 4, we are introduced to the art of Frostcraft, but what is that? Well, first of all it’s about arctic materials, bartering and how economies work in the polar context, including compressed air, ice rubber etc., which make a whole new class of item possible: So-called Aglootech. Unsurprisingly pioneered by said race, the class of items includes new weapons (by the way, all of which are rendered in gorgeous full color) that use this fizzling to create rifles, pistols etc. that propel nail-like projectiles through the waves, pneumatic blades and spears can be found in this chapter alongside the skitch-battle-scythes of the Squawk, ice blades. Also rather extremely cool regarding artworks: How exactly such rifles work is shown in a neat schematic that also provides enlarged and named components for the respective weapons. When harpoon-like rifles are possible, it should come as no surprise that there also are massive harpoon-cannons based on this technology to be found.
We also get a table for the 24 new feats herein, some of which allow angakkuqs to enhance their tupilaqs, grant squawks natural attacks and improved combat prowess with their signature skith, expand ningen blindsight, allow ice-elves to coat weapons in damaging ice and even pierce cold resistance with your cold resistance. The new class also gets an extensive spell-list and we also get an aquatic magus spell-list, which is neat to have indeed. I applaud one decision by Alluria: Instead of contributing to spell-bloat, we get 10 spells that adhere to the maxim of class instead of mass. From a spell that allows you to partially take on aquatic animal characteristics, one to encapsulate foes in ice or one to use the new entombed quality. Of course, you may also create a rancid murk that carries a plethora of debilitating diseases and unleash it into the waves.
The arctic “lands” of Isinblare are also rich in a material called Ancient Crystal, which can provide an array of interesting qualities to benefit from or be hindered by. 3 new magical items, also with gorgeous, perhaps even above-paizo-level artworks, complete the package of the chapter.
Chapter 5 is where the setting-specific pieces of information for the region of Isinblare in the context of the Cerulean Seas-setting can be found. (And yes, that means until now, the book was all about material just about any campaign could use). In tradition with the Cerulean Seas-setting, we get what amounts to essentially short racial histories of the respective races, each of which comes with a fluff-only write-up of a famous personality of the respective race. Beyond the main playable races, though, we also get pieces of information on the civilization of races from the bestiary. Languages and their speakers are part of what is provided, as are 6 deities and write-ups of the nations and big cities to be found in the realms of indigo ice, though the latter lack city statblocks. The maps provided do their job, though they admittedly fall far behind the quality of the artworks and feel slightly out of place.
In tradition with other Alluria Publishing-releases, the final chapter provides us with a bestiary-section, which includes fiskheim akhluts, domesticated huge versions of the regular akhluts, aquatic bears, the fish-humanoid Brothers of Frost , a new song dragon, the riding penguins called Kairaku, two new types of ningen, a wicked fey of frozen glaciers, seal variants (both mundane and partially represented as the sunhunter as a deadly glacier-predator and more: Take e.g. living ice-float constructs, ice-breaker whales, AWESOME-looking ice leviathans, ice kraken, orcoths and tizheruks and even ice liches. Alluria books are usually beautiful. These monster-illustrations, though, transcend even some of the offerings I’ve seen by WotC and paizo – mind-boggling and awesome. Also, each of the creatures gets some kind of interesting (sometimes even multiple) signature abilities. Arctic/Aquatic mounts and war-beasts are also covered, with e.g. animal companion stats.
Beyond even this content, we get an index of aqautic polar monsters by CR(including up to Bestiary 3, Creepy Creatures and all Cerulean Sea-books), pronunciation guidelines, a table that lists all tables, an art-index, 8 card-stock minis and a small poem on the last page.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches – quite a feat at this length. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and its layout adheres to Cerulean Seas’ two-column full-color standard and is, still, among the most dazzling out there. The artworks deserve special mentioning: Where Waves of Thought and even Cerulean Seas had an odd one out here and there, Indigo Ice goes above and beyond: These artworks are so beautiful, I honestly can’t recall having EVER seen such a beautiful book by any 3pp – this ranks, presentation-wise, among the very best and in fact, at least imho, surpasses even multiple paizo-books. The supplement unfortunately comes sans printer-friendly version and if you can, I suggest you get the full-color print. If the print is half as beautiful as the pdf, you’ll still have a drop-dead gorgeous book.
When I read the premise of the book, I was honestly doubting whether this would interest me: Cerulean Seas is a peculiar set of rules/setting and combining them with the frozen north seemed problematic to me at best: Especially with Kobold Press’ Northlands already doing a great of Norse-themed fantasy, albeit above the waves. Indigo Ice thankfully takes a different approach: Blending Norse themes with a large dose of Inuit-myth (something seen all too rarely) the setting is something different altogether from the sum of its component parts: Flavor-wise, the vibe that best describes the indigo Ice is imho a pulpy underlying theme of a harsh land of harsh people coated with more than a fair share of original ideas (Spartan penguins actually are much more badass than you’d think!) and mixed up with technology that creates a combination of themes both in line with traditionalist mythologies and a sense of ancientness as well as with the throes of progress and a feeling of being on the dawning of a new age.
The weapons with their details (and especially the extremely detailed schematic that depicts it) make what would otherwise be a ridiculous concept feel believable. In fact, that’s pretty much the crowning achievement of Indigo Ice: Many concepts may sound ridiculous when paraphrased in a review such as this, but the unity of stellar artwork, superb rules and excellent writing combine to make them work: To the extent where even usually gun-less campaigns can probably use these weapons sans breaking the suspension of disbelief. Now the fact that neither class, nor feats or any other component of the pdf can be considered broken or unbalanced further serves to boost the overall impression of excellence that withstands even closer scrutiny.
Beyond the usefulness of the book as a whole, I feel obliged to mention that the races, items and ideas herein can enrich campaigns in any northern setting, not necessarily only ones beneath the waves: If your PCs only plan sojourns into the frozen depths, then this pdf will still provide extremely fine critters, feats and intriguing civilizations for you to scavenge and add.
To cut a long ramble that gushes about artworks, monsters and weapons, the potential usability for underwater-steampunk-adventures (if you emphasize Aglootech further) and the quality of the writing short: This book is a truly excellent addition to Alluria’s oeuvre and its quality stand up to the highest standards you could demand, the one shortcoming being the maps in the campaign setting-section and the lack of city statblocks, but which in no way would justify rating this superb, surprisingly consistent book down: My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval.
Cerulean Seas: Indigo Ice is available from: